BBQ is a beloved summer dish, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s quick, fresh, and best of all, it’s simple. But what if you want to take your BBQ to the next level? Marinating your meat before you BBQ adds time to the preparation phase, but requires very little effort. Once you’re digging into succulent morsels of flavourful meat, we’re sure you won’t regret the extra step. But if you’re determined to ramp up the flavour as quickly as possible, a savoury rub can also add depth to simple BBQ.
There are two main reasons to marinate your meat before cooking: marinades tenderize and marinades add flavour.
The most important ingredient in any marinade is an acid or enzyme which will break down the muscle tissues of your meat. Vinegar and wine are traditional bases, but fruit juices, buttermilk and yogurt are usually acidic enough to transform tough muscle tissue into mouth-watering succulence. Fruit enzymes can also be used to tenderize meat, but they do their best work while cooking. Kiwi, papaya, pineapple and fig all contain protein-digesting enzymes which will help soften tough muscle.
Most marinades also include oil and herbs and spices for flavour.
The longer you marinate your meat, the tenderer it will be. Consider chopping big, tough cuts into small pieces; increasing the surface area provides more opportunities for absorption.
No matter what type of meat you’re preparing, always marinate it in the fridge. Warm marinades are great for hatching bacteria, and salmonella is the last flavour you want to add to your BBQ. Be safe and keep your meat and marinade cool.
Don’t reuse your marinating juices, as they’ve absorbed meat bacteria and can contaminate future batches. If you’re determined to include marinating juices in a sauce, make sure to boil them for several minutes to kill any lingering pathogens.
Avoid marinating in metal containers as they can react with the acids and compromise the chemical composition of your meal.
Tough cuts like flank, skirt, and sirloin can benefit from up to 24 hours in a flavour bath, while tender cuts like strip loin, will do with a lighter soak of 30 minutes – 2 hours. Particularly tender cuts can be overdone by marinating, so talk to your butcher. When in doubt, opt for a rub or sauce to add flavour.
Marinating chicken and pork
As a general rule, chicken and pork will taste best after 20 min-2 hours of soaking. Remove chicken skin to maximize absorption.
Be cautious with fish: ceviche and gravlax are two examples of fish dishes that are “cooked” by marinating. (Soaking thin slices of fish in acid denatures the fish’s proteins: it’s more like pickling than cooking, but fish prepared in this manner will not respond kindly to heat.) Acidic marinades can render certain fishes mushy, so unless you’re aiming to make a pickled dish, limit marinating time to 30 minutes or less.
Red Wine Mustard Marinade for Beef: Mix 2 cups red wine with 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 4 tablespoons olive oil, ¼ cup finely diced onions and 1 tablespoon dried Herbes de Provence. Marinate 2 lbs flank steak in the fridge for 4 - 24 hours, turning once halfway to ensure even absorption. BBQ quickly on high heat.
Simple Lemon Dill Marinade for Fish: Juice 3 ripe lemons and mix the liquid with finely chopped dried or fresh dill. Marinate 4 sole or salmon fillets in the mixture for ten minutes per side. Grill with lots of butter.
Creamy Zaatar Marinade for Pork or Chicken: Mix 4 cups yogurt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ¼ cup zaatar spice, salt and finely chopped mint to taste. Sweeten with a little sugar, if desired. Spread half the mixture over chicken or pork and marinate for 2 hours. Reserve remaining mixture and brush on meat in final 3 minutes of cooking.
Dressing meat in a coat of hard, roughly cut spices and flavourings (think cracked peppercorns, coriander and mustard seeds, rock salt or sugar) gives it a protective coating and insulates it from the heat of the grill. But the best rubs also include oil and herbs, which penetrate the flesh during cooking, and add moisture and flavour.
Play around with different combinations when concocting your own rubs, and consider adding gourmet salts for extra panache. Smoked salts add a smoldered wood flavour that tastes great with beef, whiles citrus salts provide tang to chicken and fish, and truffle salts add subtle richness to any kind of meat.
Whether you’ve created a dry rub (with herbs, spices, salt and/or sugar) or a wet one that includes oil, make sure to spend some time massaging it into your meat (with clean hands, of course). Coat your meat thoroughly before grilling, and prepare to enjoy!
Hot Smoke Rub for Beef or Tofu: Combine equal parts smoked salt and chili flakes with a half part cracked peppercorns. Add olive oil to make a thick paste, and spread over beef or tofu before grilling.